No one ever doubted that La Mamounia lushly landscaped and ornately appointed was Marrakech's grande dame hotel. But it has taken an almost $180 million, head-to-toe, three-year face-lift for everyone to see just how poorly the old girl had been aging. Gone now are the heavy, garish and outdated interiors. In their place is an elegant new scheme by French interiors ace Jacques Garcia, pairing neo-arabesque and Art Deco aesthetics with his telltale Gallic glamour.
La Mamounia, or at least its eight hectares of gardens, began life in the 18th century as a wedding gift to Morocco's Prince Moulay Mamoun from his father, King Mohammed Ben Abdellah (the hotel didn't follow until 1923). Today, those gardens, with their centuries-old olive trees, still retain their historic splendor. And the rest of La Mamounia has never felt fresher.
Garcia has kept La Mamounia's palatial feel while reducing the room count to 209 from 242. Each room includes patios or terraces, ample tiles and marble and hidden minibars packed with champagne. Three über-discreet and homey riads are now La Mamounia's sweetest suites, with private pools and classic Moroccan-style courtyards. They are secreted beyond the hotel's endless colonnaded walkways, intricately inlaid reflection pools, designer-boutique arcade and a peek-a-boo glass cube of a gym.
Further on, a sprawling 2,500-sq-m spa complex houses an underground series of pools, hammams and treatment rooms as regal as the hotel itself. And a quartet of haute eateries offer a dose of Europe in the Maghreb, thanks to kitchens helmed by a pair of imported Michelin masters: Italy's Alfonso Iaccarino and Jean-Pierre Vigato from France. Both offer memorable dining, though La Mamounia's real culinary must-try is actually its Moroccan restaurant, Le Marocain, with its splendid and secluded arched dining nooks.
Beyond its marble this and gilded that, La Mamounia's best asset is truly its location just moments from the city's historic medina and the Djemaa el Fna square, with its snake charmers and open-air restaurants. It's all towered over by the 70-m-high minaret atop the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech's holiest (and most historic) landmark, whose mournful muezzin serenades all of Marrakech, and La Mamounia itself, just a short stroll away. For details, see www.mamounia.com.
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